By Joe Rexrode, Detroit Free Press –
EAST LANSING, Mich. — They batted it around and gave it away. They committed silly penalties, missed blocks, dropped passes and went almost 40 minutes without scoring a point.
But in the end, the Michigan State offense was doing the thing an offense most likes to do to finish a game — taking a knee. Andrew Maxwell did the honors after Le’Veon Bell did most of the work on a hot opening night at Spartan Stadium, capping a 17-13 comeback win for the No. 13 Spartans over No. 24 Boise State.
Bell’s 5-yard touchdown run with 8:12 left served as the winning score and helped him finish with a career night. The junior running back had 44 carries — tied for fourth-most in Michigan State history — for 210 yards and two touchdowns , and also managed six catches for 55 yards in a performance that will earn early Heisman Trophy attention.
Maxwell threw three interceptions in a mistake-plagued first half, two of them off the hands of intended receivers. He recovered to win his starting debut and complete 22 of 38 passes for 248 yards .
Seven of those passes were caught by tight end Dion Sims (65 yards ), including a key 18-yard leaping grab to set up the winning touchdown.
Michigan State’s defense was strong for most of the night and held on fourth-and-2 from its 42 with 6:32 left. Bell put the game away from there.
The Spartans outgained the Broncos 461 to 206 but lost the turnover battle, 4-2. That’s why this game was in doubt until the end.
A crowd of 78,709 — the largest for an Michigan State home opener since 1990 — was roaring early on a hot, windy evening at Spartan Stadium.
The Spartans stuffed Boise State in three plays on the game’s first possession, then took the ball right down the field on Maxwell’s first possession as a starter.
He hit on all four of his passes, two for third-down conversions, and Bell did the rest — including a 23-yard gain after hurdling a defender and 1-yard scoring plunge on third-and-goal — in a 12-play, 60-yard drive that took 6:18 off the clock .
The defense held again. The crowd responded. The rout was under way.
Maxwell dropped back on the next play and fired a strike to Tony Lippett, leading him for the chance at a big gain after the catch. But Lippett bobbled the pass into the hands of Boise State cornerback Jamar Taylor.
It would be the first of many costly miscues for the Michigan State offense. Boise State got a field goal out of that one, then the Spartans responded with a nice drive that yielded a 50-yard field goal from Dan Conroy with 1:39 left in the first quarter.
The Spartans would not score again until Bell’s game-winner.
The defense stopped a Boise State drive in the Michigan State end zone with an RJ Williamson pick after Isaiah Lewis tipped a pass.
But on the ensuing possession, Maxwell was under duress and tried to force a screen pass to Larry Caper. It bounced off Caper’s hands and into the arms of Jeremy Ioane — who took it 43 yards for an easy, tying touchdown .
Michigan State’s next possession was killed by penalties, a chop block and a false start.
Boise got to the 2 but settled for a field goal to go up, 13-10.
Michigan State responded with a drive, but Bell got stuffed on third-and-1 and fourth-and-1 from the Boise State 40.
Michigan State got a fumble. Michigan State drove again. Maxwell had Bennie Fowler alone for a touchdown but threw it behind him — and the ball popped into the air for interception No. 3 of the first half.
Michigan State got the ball to start the second half and moved, another promising opportunity. But Conroy hooked a 42-yard field goal that would have tied it.
Another stop. Another drive, with Bell pulling off an incredible 35-yard run after he was pinned deep in his own end.
Maxwell hit Lippett downfield and he was off for 35 yards — but fumbled it back to the Broncos.
Michigan State got a stop. A reverse to Lippett killed the next drive after he couldn’t get a pass off and lost 10 yards.
Finally, Michigan State put a finishing drive together early in the fourth quarter. The Spartans drove 56 yards in nine plays — keyed by an 18-yard pass from Maxwell to Sims on third-and-6 from the Boise State 25 — and scored on a 5-yard Bell run.
The Michigan State defense held on the next possession, stopping a fourth-and-2 at its 42, and Bell blasted his way to the finish. He had 13 carries for 58 yards in the fourth quarter.